My wife and I have been going to Blue Jackets games since the very beginning -- October 7, 2000, to be exact, the first night the puck dropped in Nationwide Arena. I thought it was a passion we shared. My wife isn't much of a sports fan, but we always had fun together at hockey games.
What I didn't realize is that she never really resolved the "sports" and "fun" parts of that equation. She was enjoying herself, sure, but the hockey game that happened to be taking place in the building was incidental to the fun.
I learned this late last season after a particularly spectacular Rick Nash goal. The acrobatics unfolded directly in front of our seats.
"Did you see that?" I asked (rhetorically, I thought). "Did you see that!"
"No? What do you mean no? What were you looking at?" I wasn't concerned as much as curious. I mean, really, what was she looking at?
"I don't know. I was thinking about shoes."
There it was: The truth as cold and hard as the ice on the rink. And now that I know, my wife doesn't have to pretend. (The admission must have been a relief.) We still go to lots of Blue Jackets games together-I go to watch hockey, and she goes to think about shoes.
It's a lot of fun, of course, even if your mind happens to wander along the fashionable footwear aisle more than it considers the plus-minus stats of the opposing team's first line. Hockey is the most exciting of all spectator sports. You can think about shoes, but you can't escape the electric atmosphere of a sold-out arena during a close game.
And it's about to get a lot more exciting in Columbus. The Blue Jackets are making a serious run at the playoffs-it would be their first postseason appearance in the team's nine years. Even if you haven't yet jumped on the hockey bandwagon, you may not be able to resist becoming a Blue Jackets fan in the next month.
Lucky for you, Nationwide Arena is one of the best places in the league to watch a game. To help you make the most of it, I've assembled a few game-time tips for fans. And in case you're still discovering the joys of hockey, I've also included a few basics about game play so you can follow along.
Off The Ice
Beer: Have your ID ready, because you can't buy beer without a driver's license, even if you're the spitting image of Rue McClanahan. Also, you can't buy a round for your friends-only two beers per person at a time.
Chili Chant: If the Blue Jackets score three goals, everyone gets a free Wendy's chili the next day. So at some point after the Jackets score two goals, 18,000 people start chanting, "Chili! Chili!" I used to be embarrassed by the Chili Chant-I thought it was sort of minor-league-but now I find it quite endearing.
Visiting Fans: Nationwide Arena sometimes seems plagued by fans of opposing teams. For the first couple years after the Jackets' expansion, it was understandable-local NHL fans must have been following other teams before-but now it's annoying. Worst of all are the Detroit fans who drive down here from that state up north. I don't think we should be hostile to visiting fans, but we don't want them to feel real comfortable here either.
Sweater: A hockey jersey is called a sweater. Unlike at many other sporting events, where fans just wear team colors, most hockey fans wear official-looking sweaters to games. It's a good way to show your hometown pride (see: Visiting Fans above), but it's also a good way to stay warm, since the arena is about 65 degrees.
On The Ice
Icing: This is when the puck is shot from behind the center line to the opposite goal line-most of the length of the rink-without being touched by a player. In other words, a defender has to pass or skate the puck out of his defending zone; he can't just fire the puck to the other end of the rink.
Line Changes: Teams dress 20 players, usually organized into four three-forward offensive lines, three two-defender pairs and two goalies. (Three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie take the ice when a team is at full strength.) There are few time-outs in hockey, so line changes are made on the fly.
Offsides: A player cannot precede the puck into his attacking zone-the puck must cross the blue line before the player. If a player is offsides he can tag up by returning to the blue line and then re-entering the attacking zone.
Overtime: If the score is tied after the three 20-minute periods of regulation, the teams play a five-minute sudden-death overtime. This is very exciting. If the score is still tied, they proceed to a one-on-one shootout, which is even more exciting. Please stand and cheer during the entire shootout. Thank you.
Power Play: If a player is whistled for certain violations, he's confined to the penalty box-two minutes for minor penalties like tripping and five minutes for major penalties like fighting. This gives the full-strength team a one-man advantage, or power play, until they score or until the violator has served his time.